House District 31 candidates squared off for the first time Wednesday at the Kachemak Board of Realtors Public Forum. Incumbent Paul Seaton and candidate Sarah Vance answered questions on everything from the state budget to the environment.
Seaton says one of his major priorities is fixing the state deficit through reforming the state’s current oil tax credit system and creating more revenue.
“We are getting the lowest percentage of tax in the history of our state under the current regime we have...,” he said. “I think that a broad base tax is something that we are going to have to do in the future.”
Vance said Legislators need to reduce state spending, and she said she will reject an income tax.
She also focused her comments on job creation. She wants to expand a program that offers businesses incentives to move into Alaska. However, she did not explain how additional jobs would funnel money into state coffers. Broad-based taxes are the most commonly used mechanism states use to benefit from job creation. The state has no state sales, property or income taxes.
Vance also suggested that increasing state employees’ productivity could save money.
“There are many learning opportunities of different coaching and things like that that comes in that teaches corporations how to build a proper work environment and community…,” she said. “First we're going to have to have an assessment on what it is that is affecting our productivity, causing it to be so low.”
Vance also wants to restore the former Permanent Fund Dividend formula.
“The full PFD is your money,” she said. “It’s for you to decide how it should be used because you are the Alaskans that live here and work here and you should be the ones determining how it is used.”
Seaton said he understands that reducing the PFD last year hurt people financially. But he said Legislators had no other option but to spend Permanent Fund earnings on state government when the House and Senate couldn’t agree on any revenue proposals or cost-saving measures.
He also pushed back against the idea of the Legislature returning to the old PFD formula, without new sources of revenue.
“You would have to eliminate all of these that’s Public Safety, that’s the Department of Transportation, Correction, Fish and Game,” he said. “All of those would have to be zeroed out to do what some people are suggesting: pay a full old formula PFD and not raise any taxes. These aren’t efficiencies, folks, those are major cuts.”
The candidates also sparred on ballot measure one. The measure would add new standards to permitting activities and development projects that have the potential to hurt fishing habitat.
Seaton spoke in favor of the measure saying the new standards are needed.
“Right now, a project comes forward, they have no idea how to design their project because they don’t know what their standards will be…,” he said. “So the people proposing projects should know what the standards are and the people reviewing those projects should know as well.”
Vance believes the measure is too vague.
“I think that the vagueness is quite dangerous,” she said. “When we write laws, we need to make sure that they are specific because this is affecting our entire state, not just one industry.”
However, both candidates agreed on some issues. Both wanted to see the continuation of the state mandated senior tax exemption and both support private financing of the AKLNG project. They also spoke about opportunities for Alaska in the arctic as more ice-free waters become available.
Vance and Seaton will square off again in a debate at the Homer Public Library Saturday.